You are here

What If Grades Didn't Exist?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

by Tim Lougheed, Learning 2030 In-Camera Blogger

Image © WGSI/Sam Saechao

“Most students don’t really understand the marks they receive…” That’s how one participant at the latest Equinox Summit: Learning 2030 describes the conundrum of educational assessment.  

According to summit participants at this morning’s working sessions, students often ignore the feedback they get because they are so closely focused on the particular score they have received.
The result, according to another participant, is that they wind up confused about what is expected and how well they are actually doing.
A better approach, they say, would be that of enabling students to play a stronger role in determining their progress will be determined: “It’s important for them to get ahead of the person who’s evaluating them,” another voice pipes-up.
Student progress in today’s educational systems is restricted in other ways too.

Should age decide which grade a student should be in?

For example, students often find themselves forced to move forward at a rate based on their age, rather than on how well they can cope with the learning challenges they face.
In some parts of the world, it may even be illegal to allow an exceptional young person to exceed these boundaries if they are capable of performing at a higher level.
As this point was raised, one observer compared it to the age-neutral approach taken in other contexts. “In most other areas, such as playing the piano or swimming, you don’t perform with your age group but at your skill level.”
Nor is age the only consideration; within any group people addressing an educational task, individual abilities and rates of progress will vary widely. “It’s only human,” concluded one Summit member. “If you have 30 people in a group, they’ll all be at different stages of development.”

Image © WGSI/Sam Saechao

Freeing-up teachers to become more than ‘teachers’

Stepping away from grades represents much more than sparing students from the pressure to pass the specific criteria of tests.
It also frees up teachers to take on a much broader role as mentors and guides, rather than simply being the tabulators of academic scores.
“We’ve got to get away from this idea of marks, marks, marks,” says one delegate in this regard. “The role of the teacher has got to be a diagnostician, and not someone who hands out marks — that’s such a waste of their time.”



Will the classrooms of 2030 have grades?

Grades and other measurable forms of educational assessment might still have a place for key milestones such as acceptance to university, but even in this context, marks need not be the ultimate arbiter of success. Delegates note that many institutions accept students almost exclusively on the basis of records of activity, such as portfolios of work, rather than more abstract collections of examination grades.
This review of how educational assessment could evolve between now and 2030 is just one of four key areas being conducted by members of the summit.
Others are looking at the social and physical environment that future schools will have, how those schools will be organized, and what kinds of tools and techniques will be found in their classrooms, which might look very different from the classrooms of today.